Sydney 2000, Act One, Scene One: Ian Thorpe Heralds Arrival With Two Towering Golds

Ian Thorpe in 2011 - by Patrick B. Kraemer

It is 15 years since Sydney welcomed the world to the Olympic Games at its Opening Ceremony. The first day of action in the pool heralded the arrival of Ian Thorpe in Olympic waters with two golds, the first in a stunning world record over 400m freestyle, the second in the 4x100m freestyle to the sound of crashing guitars

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You brought up an interesting point… Could they have DQed Thorpe and the Aussies in the relay after Thorpe got out of the pool early?

Not sure what the rules state about this… A year later the Aussie girls got DQ when they did the opposite and jumped into pool before the race finished


That Thorpe’s first night is among the finest night by a swimmer in all Olympics history.

The equivalent of today would be like asking Sun Yang or Ledecky to anchor their team’s 4×100 free to victory, merely an hour after their WR breaking 400 m swim.

Verram, they couldn’t have DQed Thorpe, you can get out of the pool as long as you don’t obstruct other lanes which have not yet finished.

Craig Lord

Verram, have added a note of clarification. Rule wording has been tweaked since 2000 but the problem is not leaping out but leaping In or swimming into the path of an incoming swimmer, potential hindrance and obstruction the issue in play. Many years ago, the rule was worded in terms of respect for other athletes.


Thorpe 3:40, Bennett 4:05…… How times have changed. 4:05 May not final in Rio, 3:40 will still be fast enough to win. What a legend.


His last world record set while still 19 years of age! The most talented men’s freestyler in history?


Besides the obvious, I’m struck by two things in those videos. First – what’s the consensus on Thorpe’s suit? Textile, sure, but clearly advantageous? And second – his streamlining off the turns is awful! How is it possible to have got as far as the Olympic games and be doing that?!

Craig Lord

🙂 Stabilo, your 2 questions dovetail. Taking the last one first: the majority of swimmers who make the Olympics streamline no better and many worse. And so to the first question: that Ian Thorpe is wearing such a suit but gains nothing when streamlining off the walls goes a long way to answering your question – the compression may well have helped at the dawn of more serious compression but there is no comparison between textile and non-textile bodysuits, not remotely close in terms of impact across the range of swimmers, shapes, sizes, strokes, skills and distances (and more) … nor was there a perceptible leap in standards in 2000 on the clock across all events 300 and more deep through the rankings … Thorpe was one of several top swimmers to wear that particular suit – recalling four of them, two went faster in the suit, two did not, and only Thorpe got significantly faster between 1998 and 2001, age 15 to 18.


Thanks Craig. I was of course not suggesting his bodysuit, or the general trend of increased suit material up to 2007, is anything like what happened in 2008/9. As far as I remember, the Fastskin FSI and FSII (etc) suits were marketed on ‘sharkskin’ characteristics and repelling water, not compression. The current suits also seem to be pretty adept at letting water glide over them rather than absorb it.
With streamlining, I was referring more to Thorpe’s hand positions than any gains/losses of the wall. I think Phelps said that Thorpe’s turns (fly kicks) were an inspiration for him, and in the 4×100 video he uses them pretty well. But I am always surprised to see how loose Thorpe’s streamlining was – hands far apart.

Craig Lord

Yes, I know what you mean, stabile: quite a lot of sloppiness in the mix of excellence 🙂 The Adidas suit was marketed on compression (still have the press release in a file somewhere… and I’ve got the actual suit in a draw, somewhere (not the actual one he wore 🙂 … and yes, you’re right, much teflon feel to a fair few suits right now, which would help women more than men under current cut and may explain a difference in certain statistics, too.


At the time (Thorpe learnt the art in the ’90s) streamlining was not religiously taught everywhere. Even today some elite swimmers do not streamline particularly well, as Craig points out.
As for the suit, I think he did not wear it during prelims, at least in Sidney, and he still beat all the competition in the 400 and 200 free (except VDH of course).

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